Architecture Professor Inspires Students to be World Changers, One Design at a Time

  • Shelly Pottorf

When Assistant Professor of Architecture Shelly Pottorf left ‘Corporate America’ five years ago to begin her teaching career at Prairie View A&M University, she sought out to make a difference. “Before I came to PVAMU, I was an architect who was solely in professional practice for 15 years,” said Pottorf. “I was working in a public-interest-design format through my private practice when I realized that I could be much more effective in that work by teaching the next generation the knowledge and skills they will need to carry it forward.”

Pottorf’s specialty is net-zero designs, or buildings or structures that have a zero balance of energy consumption. “PVAMU began participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Race to Zero Student Design Competition four years ago,” said Pottorf. “Our students call themselves The Mod Squad. With guidance from myself and my colleagues April Ward and Shannon Bryant, they design affordable, net-zero housing for low-income communities. Just within the past few months, they won the Grand Award in the DOE’s Race to Zero Competition, the City of Houston’s Complete the Community Housing Design Competition, which benefits Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Complete Communities, and the Texas Society of Architects’ Studio Design Award.”

Pottorf says service-learning, or learning that ultimately benefits others and the community, is the focus. “My ultimate goal is to be a change agent and to make sure our students know they are change agents as well,” said Pottorf. “We are leaving an extraordinarily difficult situation to the next generation, both sociologically and ecologically speaking. It is only right that we equip our students with the knowledge and skills needed to meet those challenges. Once they realize the impact they can have on their world and start to embrace that impact, it is an inspiring and powerful moment.”

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-This story by Marchita Shilo originally appeared in Academic Insights.